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Health Sciences

Custom program developed for Health Science leaders

Health Sciences Leadership Series

A program designed to improve the leadership capabilities and communication skills of Health Sciences faculty members.

Visit the Faculty of Health Sciences website to register.

By Mark Kerr, Senior Communications Officer

Health Sciences faculty members spend years training for their roles as educators, researchers and scholars. In many cases, though, there aren'™t the same opportunities to develop specific skills required for their administrative and managerial duties.

The Office of Faculty Development in the Faculty of Health Sciences aims to change that by collaborating with the Human Resources Department on a new management development program. The Health Sciences Leadership Series will launch this September with the first cohort of 30 participants completing six full-day sessions throughout 2014-15.

"This program is modelled after one that myself and a number of other faculty had the opportunity to take several years ago," says Tony Sanfilippo, Associate Dean, Undergraduate Education, Faculty of Health Sciences. "In retrospect, the content has proven to be highly relevant and practical. The Health Sciences Leadership Series will be invaluable to any faculty members charged with administrative responsibilities or curricular development."

Human Resources designed the program specifically for Health Sciences faculty members. The material will cover challenges, situations and conflicts they will encounter in their day-to-day work. Dr. Sanfilippo says participants will gain a deeper understanding of their leadership capabilities, expand their communication skills, enhance their project management skills, and improve their ability to build relationships both within and outside their department.

The Health Sciences Leadership Series will be invaluable to any faculty members charged with administrative responsibilities or curricular development.

Tony Sanfilippo, Associate Dean, Faculty of Health Sciences.

With the Health Sciences Leadership Series, Queen's Human Resources Department continues to expand its leadership development programming. The department has offered a similar program for non-academic managers since 2009.

"œWe are excited to partner with the Faculty of Health Sciences to extend this valuable leadership training to their faculty members," says Al Orth, Associate Vice-Principal, Human Resources. "We are hopeful that the positive outcomes of this series will result in opportunities to work with other faculties on similar programs in the future."

The series has the added benefit of meeting the accreditation criteria for two professional organizations. It is an accredited group learning activity for the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada. The program also meets the accreditation criteria of the College of Family Physicians of Canada.

Online registration is now open with the first session slated to take place Sept. 16. More information is available on the Faculty of Health Sciences website or by contacting Shannon Hill, Learning Development Specialist, Human Resources, at ext. 74175.

A new approach to critical care

Queen’s researcher David Maslove comments on strategies to provide better treatment and care to patients in the ICU.

Patient on an ICU bed.
Identifying the underlying causes and biology of patients' illnesses can move intensive care towards precision medicine.

When patients are admitted to an intensive-care unit, health practitioners provide treatment based on the signs and symptoms they observe. This approach does not necessarily include understanding the definite causes behind those symptoms. However, even though some patients might present similar symptoms, the underlying biology of their illnesses can vary, which helps to explain why patients with the same signs and symptoms often respond differently to treatments.

In recent years, technological advances in molecular sciences, big data, and machine learning have allowed researchers to dig deeper in understanding illnesses and symptoms. This new knowledge can radically change how we approach critical care at the individual patient level.

In a recent paper published in Nature Medicine, David Maslove (School of Medicine) and colleagues argue it’s time for a paradigm shift in critical care. He spoke to the Gazette about how the COVID-19 pandemic advanced critical care research and what knowledge gaps we still need to address to put this new approach into practice.

How did critical care emerge as a discipline and why has it traditionally looked at syndromes to understand patients' needs and possible outcomes?

Critical care arose as a medical specialty in the mid-20th century, as the technology was advancing to provide organ support and assisted breathing. With that came a special set of skills and a unique environment within the hospital where the sickest patients could be closely monitored with specialized equipment and a strong nursing presence.

The use of syndromes to describe these cases is directly related. By syndrome, we mean a collection of signs and symptoms that together indicate to a provider that a specific condition is present. The syndromes are based on clinical manifestations – what the nurses and doctors observe. But they don't necessarily speak to what the underlying biology of the illness is.

David Maslove
David Maslove

One example is sepsis, which is a syndrome of life-threatening organ dysfunction resulting from infection. Even though patients with sepsis have similar symptoms – fever, confusion, shortness of breath, high heart rate, and others – there are many different pathogens that can trigger the reaction, and a targeted treatment could be much more efficient than the current standards of care.

How is the advent of data science, machine learning, and molecular analyses affecting critical care and pushing it towards a new phase?

Over the last decade or two, as new tools in molecular medicine like genomics and gene expression profiling came into wider use, we began to apply them in critical care. Those technologies allow a much deeper look at what's going on at the level of the cell and the genome when somebody is critically ill. They also generate massive quantities of data – data that traditional statistical methods don't always handle in intuitive ways. That’s why machine learning approaches couple nicely with the new data that we are getting from these technologies: they reveal hidden patterns that can provide insights into the heterogeneity or diversity of critical illness syndromes.

What did critical care researchers and practitioners learn from COVID-19?

Because we had a group of critically ill patients that were all affected by the same pathogen – the COVID19 virus, SARS-CoV-2 – there was a tremendous opportunity to test potential treatments in a group that was more homogeneous than usual, increasing the chances that a therapy would on average affect everyone the same way. Researchers were able to promptly design and perform randomized clinical trials to test potential therapies, and they identified some effective treatments. Prior to that, because our clinical trials were treating heterogeneous groups, some patients benefitted from the treatment and others did not. It was harder to tell if the proposed treatment worked for anyone.

On a practical level, we learned some key lessons about the importance of research infrastructure to be able to collect and analyze data quickly, and the importance of being ready to efficiently enroll patients into clinical trials. We also reaffirmed that randomizing treatments is the best way to identify which ones work best. As critical care scientists from all over the world were working together towards a singular goal, we reaffirmed the importance of international collaboration.

What are the main gaps critical care research has yet to address?

We need  to clarify what it means to respond to a treatment in the ICU context, where cases are so dynamic and complex that it can be difficult to understand whether a treatment has provided benefit in any given case.

There’s also a need for biomarkers that can be used to identify patients who are more or less likely to respond to a given treatment. In critical care, a particular challenge is that you can’t send a blood test off to a lab far away and wait for a complex testing like RNA sequencing to be completed. We need agile tests that can be done at the bedside.

How do you see future research changing the lives and outcomes of patients under critical care?

With this kind research, we are moving towards precision medicine, an approach pioneered in cancer treatment. The potential benefits are tremendous. By identifying which patients are most likely to respond to which treatments, we stand to increase the efficiency of the care that we provide. The precision medicine approach spares patients from ineffective treatments.

We know that everyone experiences critical illness differently and has different care needs, and we are looking at how to address those individual needs.

Looking for a definitive cure for HIV

Infectious diseases clinician and researcher Santiago Perez is advancing work on HIV immunology and the ongoing search for a cure.

Dr. Santiago Perez
Dr. Santiago Perez is an infectious disease clinician and researcher working on HIV cure research.

A lot has happened since the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) and acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS) were first described in the early 1980s. Sexual health education campaigns have helped to curb transmission in most developed countries. Thanks to effective drugs, being infected no longer equals a death sentence. Yet, over 60,000 people in Canada and 37.7 million people worldwide still live with HIV and depend on medications daily, and for the rest of their lives. That's the only way to keep their viral loads low enough to avoid developing AIDS symptoms or transmitting the virus to others.

This is why scientists are still looking for a definitive cure: a short-term treatment capable of eliminating the virus for good. Taking part in this global effort is Santiago Perez, an infectious disease clinician and researcher in the Faculty of Health Sciences.

“I had a personal interest in HIV very early on my career,” Dr. Perez says. They were a medical student in the 1990s, when AIDS mortality rates were peaking. The scientific community was just beginning to unravel the complexity of the disease. “I felt compelled to do something to help.” Before joining Queen’s in 2019, they had been working in HIV immunology research in Mexico and France.

Dr. Perez is particularly interested in acute HIV infection and the human immune response. One of the biggest questions still lacking a satisfactory answer is how HIV manages to “hide” in the human cells. The virus gets to the point of being undetectable in patients undergoing treatment. If therapy is interrupted, it multiplies again.

HIV is a retrovirus, meaning it can insert its own genes in the DNA of infected cells. This is why immunization (via vaccines) and cure are so hard to accomplish. The most effective treatments so far are antiretroviral drugs, which suppress virus replication.

Scientists are now looking at CAR T-cell therapy, a particular form of immune therapy traditionally used to treat leukemia and other forms of cancer, to defeat HIV. “The idea is to take lymphocytes from the patient and reprogram them – using genetic engineering – to fight a particular molecule,” explains Dr. Perez. “The reprogrammed cells are then inserted back in the patient and start fighting the cancerous cells.” To be able to do the same with HIV, scientists are looking for biomarkers that can be used as targets for the CAR-T cells.

While recognizing this is a very bold goal, Dr. Perez is excited to advance this research because of the potential benefits for the patients.

“Even though people can now live with HIV, they still face the stigma. They still have to go to the doctor, take pills, and run blood work. When I talk to people living with HIV about this, they all say they wish there was a way to get rid of the virus. That’s why I’m motivated to find a cure for HIV,” Dr. Perez says.


Disease within a context

HIV infection has a close relation to human behaviour and social factors. In the rise of the AIDS pandemic, the disease was described as particularly affecting homosexual men. But this does not reflect the full picture.

Most people living with HIV in the Americas and Europe are male. But in Africa – the continent with the highest HIV infection prevalence – women are more affected than men. In South Africa, the major risk factors are being female and under the age of 17, often a result of sexual abuse and sex trafficking. “Even though women represent more than half of people living with HIV worldwide, they have been excluded from research because of the assumption that the virus affects more men than women,” highlights Dr. Perez.

Social determinants of health play a crucial role in how HIV spreads among populations. In their clinical practice in Kingston, Dr. Perez notes that many patients use intravenous drugs. These patients were possibly contaminated by infected syringes. Many are also in and out of prison. In Ontario, only patients over 65 have access to free antiretroviral treatment for HIV. These layers of complex social dynamics and access – that vary within provinces and cities across Canada – pose challenges for HIV prevention, treatment, and research.

Around the world, stigma is still one of the biggest challenges in combating HIV. “It prevents people from getting tested and from engaging in care,” says Dr. Perez.

Another huge challenge is how to provide access to treatment in low-income countries. “New therapeutics or curative treatments need to be available for global distribution, not only for rich and developed countries. Research must take that into account”, states Dr. Perez.

Queen’s Prizes for Excellence in Research announced

Three early-career researchers are recognized for advancing research and discovery in their respective fields.

Jennifer Tomasone
Dr. Jennifer Tomasone (Photo: Sam Shepherd)

Three researchers have been awarded with Queen's University’s highest internal research award, the Prize for Excellence in Research. Jennifer Tomasone (Kinesiology and Health Sciences), Cao Thang Dinh (Chemical Engineering), and Chantelle Capicciotti (Biomedical and Molecular Sciences, Chemistry, and Surgery) are early-career researchers who have demonstrated significant contributions to research in their fields: physical activity, renewable energy, and glycobiology.

The Prize for Excellence in Research is awarded by the Vice-Principal (Research Portfolio) and celebrates researchers with distinguished contributions to their fields and who have earned their highest degree in the last 10 years. Each recipient of the prize is nominated by the dean of their faculty. Nominations are then reviewed by a selection committee who place an emphasis on representing the diversity of the Queen’s community and its research. The recipients are awarded a cash prize of $5,000.

“I am delighted to present the first Prizes for Excellence in Research of my tenure to such accomplished and inspiring early-career researchers,” says Nancy Ross, Vice-Principal (Research). “It is gratifying to acknowledge researchers early on in their careers and early prizes can be an important foundation for mid- and later career recognition. From climate change to human health and disease, your award-winning research contributions will advance our understanding of people and the planet.”

Cao Thang Dinh
Dr. Cao Thang Dinh (Photo: Garrett Elliott)

Dr. Tomasone’s primary goal is to optimize physical activity participation for Canadians of all abilities. Her research is significant nationally, as Dr. Tomasone leads the most comprehensive knowledge translation campaign in the 40-year history of Canadian movement guidelines. Her research also goes beyond borders to aid efforts in movement guidelines internationally, working with organizations like the World Health Organization. Within the community, Dr. Tomasone is the co-Director of Revved Up, an exercise program for more than 200 adults with a disability in Kingston.

Dr. Dinh has been designated by Web of Science as one of only three Queen’s researchers most-cited globally in 2021. His program centres on using renewable energy to convert carbon dioxide, air, and water into valuable chemicals. The aim is to provide solutions for a fossil-fuel-free energy and chemical industry, focusing on the design of novel electrocatalytic systems using renewable energy. This research provides a compelling route to mitigate climate change and enable widely accessible renewable energy.

 Chantelle Capiciotti
Dr. Chantelle Capiciotti (Photo: GlycoNet)

Dr. Capicciotti is a Queen’s National Scholar whose interdisciplinary research in glycobiology and carbohydrate chemistry has been recognized as innovative on an international scale. Drawing from chemistry, biochemistry, and cell biology, she has developed streamlined methods to synthesize complex carbohydrates, and novel biochemical tools to study their interactions. Dr. Capicciotti leverages this interdisciplinary work to understand the biological functions of these crucial biomolecules. Her research is providing innovative insights into the role that the thick ‘sugar coating’ on cells plays in human health and disease, including cell signalling, virus infections, and cancer immune evasion.

The Prizes for Excellence in Research will be presented during convocation. To learn more about the awards, or past recipients, visit the Vice Principal (Research) Portfolio website.

Capturing the Art of Research

With a reimagined focus on the UN Sustainable Development Goals, the annual Queen's Art of Research photo contest reveals seven winning images.

From photos depicting the nanoscale to the freezing landscape of the Artic, the annual Art of Research photo contest takes us behind the scenes of the everyday research experience at Queen’s. With engagement this year from faculty, staff, students, and alumni, the contest aims to represent the diversity and creativity of research across disciplines and from all contributors to the research ecosystem.

The 2022 contest introduced five new categories inspired by the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Guided by the mission and vision of the new Queen’s Strategy and the universal call to action of the SDGs, this year’s contest placed a spotlight on the intrinsic connection between research and social impact. Discover this year’s winners below and to view more contest winners and top submissions from the past six years, explore The Art of Research Photo Gallery.

2022 Art of Research Adjudication Committee

  • Nancy Ross, Vice-Principal (Research)
  • Kanonhsyonne - Janice Hill, Associate Vice-Principal (Indigenous Initiatives and Reconciliation)
  • Nicholas Mosey, Associate Dean (Research), Faculty of Arts and Science
  • Heidi Ploeg, QFEAS Chair for Women in Engineering, Mechanical and Materials Engineering
  • Ruth Dunley, Associate Director, Editorial Strategy, Office of Advancement
  • Jung-Ah Kim, PhD Student, Screen Cultures and Curatorial Studies
  • Melinda Knox, Director, Thought Leadership and Strategic Initiatives, University Relations
  • Véronique St-Antoine, Communications Advisor, NSERC

[Photo of the SNO+ detector at SNOLAB by Dr. Alex Wright]

Category: Innovation for Global Impact

The SNO+ Detector

Submitted by: Dr. Alex Wright for the SNO+ Collaboration
Faculty, Physics, Engineering Physics, and Astronomy
Location: SNOLAB, Sudbury, Ontario

The SNO+ experiment studies the fundamental properties of neutrinos. The detector consists of an active volume of 780 tonnes of liquid scintillator housed within a 12-metre diameter acrylic vessel that is held in place by ropes and viewed by an array of about 10,000 photomultiplier light detectors. In this image, taken by a camera embedded in the photomultiplier array, the detector is illuminated only by light from the clean room at the top of the vessel neck, producing a beam effect. The SNO+ experiment is currently collecting data, carrying on the work of the Nobel-prize winning Sudbury Neutrino Observatory.

[Photo of 3D vascular trees in animal models]

Category: Good Health and Well-Being

The Tiniest Tree of Life

Submitted byDr. Elahe Alizadeh
Staff, Queen's CardioPulmonary Unit (QCPU), Department of Medicine 
Location: Queen's CardioPulmonary Unit

COVID-19, the second pandemic of the current century, is still an ongoing global health emergency. Its complications and mortality are associated with pneumonia and alterations in the pulmonary vasculature. Acquiring 3D images of vascular trees in animal models provide a useful tool to evaluate the effects of COVID-19 in humans. In our research aimed at finding new drugs for COVID-19 under the supervision of Dr. Stephen Archer, vascular trees of a mouse were pressure perfused to maximal dilation with a radio-opaque material (barium). The heart and lungs were fixed and scanned using VECTor4CT scanner. VECTor4CT is the first tri-modality imaging system equipped with an ultra-high-resolution micro-computed tomography (µCT) scanner at Queen’s University.

[Photo of George Konana collecting ice by Saskia de Wildt]

Category: Creative and Sustainable Communities

George Konana Collecting Ice

Submitted bySaskia de Wildt
PhD Student, School of Environmental Studies
Location: Gjoa Haven, Nunavut

The Inuit practice an ongoing relationship with the land through camping, hunting, and fishing. As part of the BearWatch project, I explore how such knowledge, accumulated over many generations, and Inuit values can be ethically engaged in a community-based polar bear monitoring program. This picture is taken on one of our trips out on the land around Gjoa Haven during spring 2022. It captures George Konana collecting ice from the lake for tea. He traces ice with the right quality to give his tea a nice ‘reddish, brown’ color. At this exact moment, he cracks out a huge piece, enough for a month of tea.

[Photo of a gastropod mummy laying eggs by Ruqaiya Yousif]

Category: Climate Action

Gastropod Mummy

Submitted byRuqaiya Yousif
PhD Student, Geological Sciences and Geological Engineering
Location: Qatar

This is a picture of a gastropod mummy laying down her egg cases. My research assesses the stable isotope (C and O), clumped isotope (∆47), and trace element compositions of living and quaternary shells from the Arabian/Persian Gulf. The aim is to link these analyses with modern oceanographic data to develop a robust proxy for understanding oceanographic change in the rock record. In other words, I am trying to link the shell chemistry with its surrounding environment and then use this link to assess oceanographic changes over the past 125,000 years. At the time of this picture, we were growing gastropods under laboratory conditions and performing invitro fertilization of oysters.

[Photo of a researcher collecting environmental DNA in a maternal polar bear den by Scott Arlidge]

Category: Partnerships for Inclusivity (Tied)

Polar Bear Denning

Submitted byScott Arlidge
Graduate Student, School of Environmental Studies
Location: Coral Harbour, Nunavut

This photo demonstrates the collection of snow from inside a maternal polar bear den to collect environmental DNA. When the mother digs out the den, skin cells from her paws are abraded and stuck to the snow. Some preliminary research shows that we may be able to identify individual bears by analyzing these snow samples, information which can inform polar bear population management. My research is a pilot of ground-based non-invasive polar bear monitoring techniques, with a focus on Inuit inclusivity. Inuit Elders and polar bear hunters are key knowledge holders and collaborators throughout this research.

[Photo of a mural of the Oasis logo by Riley Malvern]

Category: Partnerships for Inclusivity (Tied)

Aging with Oasis

Submitted byRiley Malvern
Staff, Health Services and Policy Research Institute
Location Kingston, Ontario

Oasis is a program co-developed by older adults to strengthen and sustain their communities to support aging in place. The Oasis Evaluation and Expansion research team has been working with Oasis communities since 2018 to expand the program across Canada and to evaluate a number of health and well-being outcomes. This photo depicts a mural that represents the power of communities coming together. Each square of this mural was designed by an Oasis member from communities across Kingston and Belleville. Together, these squares form the Oasis logo, which was designed by members of the original Oasis community.

[Photo of a crystallized decanoic acid by Dan Reddy]

Category: People's Choice

Crystalline Acid

Submitted byDan Reddy
PhD Student, Chemistry
Location: Chernoff Hall, Queen's University

This photo taken with scanning electron microscopy depicts an extremely small yet precise volume (i.e., nanolitre-sized) of crystallized decanoic acid. We are using these spots of crystalline acid to extract and preconcentrate, or soak-up, chemicals of concern like opioids from wastewater samples. This preconcentration step improves our ability to monitor these chemicals. By doing so, we can improve how we detect these harmful compounds and protect local watersheds.

To learn more about this year’s winners and explore past winners and top submissions, visit The Art of Research Photo Gallery on the Research@Queen’s website.

Partnership for health innovation

An evolution of the Human Mobility Research Centre, the Centre for Health Innovation connects researchers from across disciplines to tackle the most pressing human health challenges.

Cancer, infectious diseases, health data, and personalized care. The biggest challenges for human health can only be addressed by combining a range of expertise and disciplines. To foster these connections, Queen’s and Kingston Health Sciences Centre (KHSC) have partnered on the Centre for Health Innovation (CHI) – an initiative that brings together interdisciplinary investigators to fuel a solutions-based approach to translational health research, applying knowledge generated at the university to improving patient care and health outcomes.   

“CHI integrates insights from the frontlines of care to understand the real-world experiences and needs of patients and healthcare professionals,” says Amber Simpson, director of CHI and Canada Research Chair in Biomedical Computing and Informatics. “We are multidisciplinary because we understand the creative and innovative power of inclusion will forge a path to the next generation of transformative healthcare for all.” Members of the new centre have diverse backgrounds – from expertise in medicine, engineering, science, and technology to the humanities.

Amber Simpson presents at the Innovation for Good Symposium
Amber Simpson welcomes the audience to the first edition of the Innovation for Good Symposium, which celebrates the team work of the Centre for Health Innovation's members.

The Centre for Health Innovation is an evolution of Queen’s Human Mobility Research Centre (HMRC), which connected experts in medicine, engineering, and computer science to develop innovative treatments for bone and joint disorders. CHI will continue this work, while broadening its goals to address other health challenges, like infectious diseases, and using advanced technology to optimize treatment, diagnostics, and patient outcomes through precision medicine.

Solutions-based health research

The CHI team will pursue cost-effective, high-tech solutions that can be implemented within our current healthcare systems. This includes training and mentoring students and post-doctoral fellows in medical informatics, preparing Canada’s healthcare workforce to deal with rapidly growing field of digital health data.

A pivotal new connection spearheaded by CHI is building synergies between artificial intelligence (AI) and cancer research. Queen’s experts are looking at how machine learning techniques and artificial intelligence solutions might help physicians interpret cancer spread through imaging tests like CT scans and make better treatment decisions. While exploring new possibilities brought on by advancing technologies, the CHI team will also investigate the bioethical implications of using AI to predict metastasis and survival probabilities.

Also crucial for the future of the multidisciplinary centre will be the creation of shared facilities amongst the research community. In partnership with the Canadian Cancer Trials Group (CCTG), the Canada Foundation for Innovation, and Queen’s faculty partners including Health Sciences, Arts and Science, and Engineering, CHI will undertake a large-scale expansion of histopathology and biobanking resources at KHSC. This will expand KHSC’s capacity as the home of the CCTG biobanking facility and support research that will help investigators study the pathological basis of diseases.

Innovation for Good

Today and tomorrow (June 6 and 7), researchers are invited to virtually join the “Innovation for Good” symposium, that will kick off the new centre’s activities showcasing innovative, radically collaborative health research occurring across Queen's and KHSC. For more information, download the event’s program. Click here to register and watch the sessions.

CHI is also developing a state-of-the-art genomics facility to allow the complete analyses of the DNA and RNA molecules in an organism. This expansion leverages work throughout the pandemic on sequencing COVID-19 variants of concern for the province as well as long-standing expertise in cancer biomarkers. Through CHI, investigators will have the ability to leverage genomics and histopathology with data science, a winning combination to change patient outcomes.

While CHI’s objectives and mission are firmly planted on the ground, its research goals also aim for the stars. With proximity to clinicians and access to the human tissue bank, an interdisciplinary team is looking at the impacts of space travel on health, including bone loss and aging.

“We expect the shared resources and specialized facilities will allow innovation in precision medicine and digital health, in alignment with private sector interests, informing government policy, and attracting R&D investment”, notes Dr. Simpson. “Building on the work of HMRC, we are establishing an integrated, truly multi-disciplinary facility that we hope will become a province- and nation-wide resource to support health innovation and research. Exciting things are happening and Queen’s and KHSC are proud to be at the forefront.”

Got the sniffles? An expert’s tips on dealing with seasonal allergies

Increased temperatures and carbon dioxide concentrations caused by climate change and pollution can worsen symptoms.

Runny nose, sneezing, itchy/watery eyes, and occasionally coughing are the common symptoms of seasonal allergies.

Colourful flowers and delicate blossoms on trees are not the only sign that spring has truly arrived. For many, allergies are a sign the seasons have changed. Up to one in four Canadians suffer from allergic rhinitis and its symptoms – runny nose, sneezing, itchy/watery eyes, and occasionally coughing. With climate change, the problem might be getting more intense: experts believe increased greenhouse atmospheric concentration and higher temperatures cause plants to have longer flowering seasons, which leads to more pollen in the air. Also, seasonal allergies tend to be aggravated by air pollutants like diesel exhaust particles.

Anne Ellis, chair of Queen’s Division of Allergy and Immunology and clinical scientist at Kingston Health Sciences Centre (KHSC), is paying close attention to how seasonal allergies have changed in the past decade. She has some disconcerting news: it is still hard to distinguish patterns and make assertive predictions.

“Every year is different,” she says. “This year’s tree pollen season actually started on time compared to 10 years ago, but in more recent past we’ve had a very late start to tree pollen season, owing to much longer winters.”

Changing cycles

While 2021 saw record-breaking levels of birch pollen, so far 2022 has been more typical in terms of overall counts for Southern Ontario. In April, however, warmer days followed by cold nights and even snow brought pollination to a halt.

“Expect the unexpected when it comes to your allergies,” is Dr. Ellis’ main advice for those reaching for their antihistamines each spring.

Anne Ellis
Dr. Anne Ellis

But Dr. Ellis believes shortening spring and fall seasons – with longer winter and summer – make a big difference, at least in how people perceive their allergy symptoms.

“We wind up with a longer winter and more time to ‘forget’ how bad our seasonal allergies can be, so they affect us more dramatically when they come back,” she says.

North America is also seeing hotter summers with higher humidity, which can be a challenge for people with asthma. Because humidity fuels dust mite growth, even staying indoors doesn’t always provide relief – at least if one doesn’t have air conditioning or a dehumidifier.

Some practical tips

Dr. Ellis recommends that people suffering from seasonal allergies keep their windows closed and the air conditioning on when possible, and to avoid hanging clothes on clotheslines outside to prevent pollen capture. Rinsing the nose with a saline solution might help, too.

At local pharmacies, people can look for non-sedating, second generation antihistamines such as cetirizine or loratadine – Dr. Ellis says it’s better to avoid older, sedating antihistamines that might have unintended side effects and are not as effective as the new ones. If over the counter medicines are not enough to provide relief, she suggests seeing a doctor for prescription medications such as new antihistamines and intranasal corticosteroids, which reduce swelling and mucus in the nose.

In case these tips don’t do the trick, seeing a specialist might be the best option.

“Ask your doctor for a referral to an allergist to be skin tested and find out what you are allergic to specifically,” advises Dr. Ellis.  “An allergist can offer customized immunotherapy options based on these results that actually treat the underlying allergy, rather than just masking symptoms.”

From a public health perspective, Dr. Ellis says urban planning can make a difference, for example, in planting female trees that don’t pollinate – while they drop nuts and fruits, which can be messy, they don’t cause increases in pollen counts.

Research in action

Dr. Ellis leads the Kingston Environmental Exposure Unit at KHSC. In this facility, she and her team have a meticulously controlled environment that allows them to study the impact of allergens in health at any time of the year.

“The highly controlled indoor environment eliminates the variables of weather, participant environment, and the changing characteristics of seasonal allergens,” explains Dr. Ellis. “A proprietary computer-controlled delivery system and stringent monitoring ensure that the levels of allergen maintained in the unity remain within specific requirements.”

Since the 1980s, the unit has been used to advance our knowledge of how effective different anti-allergic treatments can be, including antihistamines, nasal corticosteroids and other medications.

Convocation returns

  • A graduate from the School of Medicine points to his family as he is congratulated by Chancellor Emeritus Jim Leech during the convocation ceremony on Friday, May 27.
    A graduate from the School of Medicine points to his family as he is congratulated by Chancellor Emeritus Jim Leech during the convocation ceremony on Friday, May 27.
  • Chancellor Emeritus Jim Leech poses with a graduate of the Faculty of Law on the stage during Friday's convocation ceremony at Grant Hall.
    Chancellor Emeritus Jim Leech poses with a graduate of the Faculty of Law on the stage during Friday's convocation ceremony at Grant Hall.
  • A graduate embraces Stacia Loft, Director, Indigenous Initiatives and EDII Programs for the Faculty of Law, as she receives a Blackfoot Peoples Mountain Blanket.
    A graduate embraces Stacia Loft, Director, Indigenous Initiatives and EDII Programs for the Faculty of Law, as she receives a Blackfoot Peoples Mountain Blanket.
  • Graduates from the Faculty of Law and the School of Medicine look to their family and supports at Grant Hall as the convocation ceremony begins.
    Graduates from the Faculty of Law and the School of Medicine look to their family and supports at Grant Hall as the convocation ceremony begins.
  • A graduate from the School of Medicine gets a fist bump from Rector Owen Crawford-Lem as he crosses the stage at Grant Hall.
    A graduate from the School of Medicine gets a fist bump from Rector Owen Crawford-Lem as he crosses the stage at Grant Hall.

Queen’s University held its first in-person convocation ceremonies in two years on Friday, May 27, celebrating the Class of 2022 for both the Faculty of Law and the School of Medicine.

Graduates and their families and supports gathered at Grant Hall to mark the successful completion of their Juris Doctor and Doctor of Medicine degrees.

Convocation will return on June 20-24 with ceremonies celebrating the Classes of 2020, 2021, and 2022 at the Leon’s Centre.

Details about convocation and the full schedule of events are available at queensu.ca.

Cast your vote for the Art of Research

The public has until June 2 to vote for their favourite Queen's research photo in the People’s Choice category.

[Collage of photos with text: Art of Research photo contest]
A selection of Queen's research photos included in the People's Choice vote as part of the Art of Research photo contest.

Voting is now open for the People’s Choice prize in the annual Art of Research photo contest. The public is invited to cast their ballot and participate in promoting the diversity of research happening across Queen’s.

Hosted by the Office of the Vice-Principal (University Relations), the annual contest is an opportunity for Queen’s researchers to mobilize their research beyond the academy. The contest is aimed at providing a creative and accessible method of sharing the ground-breaking research being done by the Queen’s community and celebrating the global and social impact of this work.

Contest prizes

The 2022 contest has been reimagined through the lens of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to celebrate the impact of research in advancing these important global goals. Five new categories inspired by the SDGs were introduced for this year’s contest alongside the popular People’s Choice prize.

Images selected for voting in the People’s Choice are entries that generated discussion and were shortlisted by the adjudication committee.

All prizes come with a monetary prize of $250.

Cast your vote

The survey closes on June 2 at midnight. Winners of the 2022 Art of Research photo contest will be announced shortly following the vote.

To learn more about past contests, visit the Research@Queen’s website.

2022 Art of Research Adjudication Committee

  • Nancy Ross, Vice-Principal (Research)
  • Kanonhsyonne - Janice Hill, Associate Vice-Principal (Indigenous Initiatives and Reconciliation)
  • Nicholas Mosey, Associate Dean (Research), Faculty of Arts and Science
  • Heidi Ploeg, QFEAS Chair for Women in Engineering, Mechanical and Materials Engineering
  • Ruth Dunley, Associate Director, Editorial Strategy, Office of Advancement
  • Jung-Ah Kim, PhD Student, Screen Cultures and Curatorial Studies
  • Melinda Knox, Director, Thought Leadership and Strategic Initiatives, University Relations
  • Véronique St-Antoine, Communications Advisor, NSERC

Cancer groundshot: Access to proven treatments must parallel development of new therapies

Globally, most cancer patients die not because they don’t have access to newer drugs, but because they don’t have access to even basic treatments.

A woman enters an MRI machine for a brain scan.
A woman enters an MRI machine for a brain scan. Cancer groundshot highlights that investment in improving access to treatments already proven to work saves more lives than discovery of a new treatment. (Unsplash/National Cancer Institute)

Where should investment be made today in order to save the maximum number of lives from cancer tomorrow? That is the underlying principle behind the “cancer groundshot” philosophy.

Annually, billions of dollars are spent on ambitious “cancer moonshot” programs. These programs focus on the discovery of new drugs and technologies aimed at solving the cancer burden. The hope is that discovery of a new target, a new drug or a new mechanism will help to cure cancer or reduce the cancer burden.

The United States’ ambitious Cancer Moonshot program marks its fifth anniversary in 2022, and certainly, cancer is still very much a global problem that needs addressing. Some new drugs have been developed in this time frame, but the percentage of patients who has benefited from these newer drugs has remained small.

Globally, most patients with cancer die not because they don’t have access to these newer drugs, but because they do not have access to even the basic treatments.

More than 90 per cent of patients in low-income countries, and more than half of patients in low- and middle-income countries, do not have access to basic radiotherapy services. More than half of patients globally who need cancer surgery will go without, and services needed for accurate cancer diagnosis are lacking.

These are interventions that help cure cancer and save the most lives, as opposed to newer drugs that only marginally extend survival or delay cancer growth. If inequity in access to proven effective interventions persists, newer treatment options will not reduce global cancer burden.

Cancer groundshot

I coined the term “cancer groundshot” in 2016 in a blog post to encourage prioritization in cancer care and research. It is a part of the common-sense revolution in oncology.

Cancer groundshot highlights that investing in improved access to interventions already proven to work saves more lives than discovery of a new intervention. When patients are dying due to lack of access to surgery or accurate diagnosis, a new cancer drug is not going to solve the problem.

Cervical cancer is a good example. It is probably the only cancer for which elimination is a realistic goal. HPV vaccination, cervical cancer screening and effective treatment of early detected cervical cancers may help us eliminate this cancer.

At the same time, newer drugs like pembrolizumab reportedly improve two-year survival rates in metastatic cervical cancer by 10 percentage points. While not discounting this medical advancement, it is more prudent for countries around the world to invest in cervical cancer screening, HPV vaccination and early treatment, rather than investing in access to pembrolizumab (one year of this drug costs roughly US$150,000).

In this example, the use of pembrolizumab represents the cancer moonshot approach to cervical cancer. Focusing on vaccination, screening and early treatment represents the cancer groundshot approach.

A woman gets a breast exam while a doctor helps.
A woman gets a mammogram while a doctor helps. Severe disparities in access to care exist within high-income countries as well and several pockets of population are underserved and lack access to timely and adequate cancer care. (Unsplash/National Cancer Institute)

Costs and priorities

The cost of pembrolizumab is not an outlier. Modern cancer treatments are quite expensive. On average, based on 2018 data, a new cancer drug costs more than US$150,000 per patient per year. On the other hand, barring a few good drugs, the benefits these drugs provide are not very impressive on average. For example, some new cancer drugs delay progression by a median of only three days.

Although valuation of life is inherently an impossible task, I think as a society we can agree that our resources can be better allocated than spending $16,000 per month for delaying tumour growth by three days. A new study shows that these extra days of delayed tumour growth may not necessarily mean good quality of life, either.

Cancer groundshot is a philosophy that calls for prioritization of strategies in global cancer control. The underlying principle of cancer groundshot is that one must ensure access to interventions that are already proven to work before focusing on the development of new interventions. We need to realign our priorities and invest on equitable access to high-value interventions.

This is not only an issue in low- and middle-income countries. Severe disparities in access to care exist within high-income countries as well. There are several pockets of population in countries like the United States and Canada, that are underserved and lack access to timely and adequate cancer care. There are disparities in socio-economic status, awareness levels, insurance coverage and other factors that lead to differential outcomes, even within the same country.

Advocacy and implementation

I laid out the details of the cancer groundshot philosophy in a 2018 paper in the journal Lancet Oncology. Since then, it has been gaining momentum in the cancer policy world. I have spoken about this at several international and national meetings, and this concept has been discussed both in academia and beyond. This year at the Annual Meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO), the world’s largest oncology conference, I am chairing a session on cancer groundshot.

This recognition from ASCO will certainly add to its recognition, and hopefully, adoption. The session is organized into three talks, which have also been compiled into a book chapter:

  • Cancer groundshot and how clinical trials fit into this philosophy.
  • Disparities in low- and middle-income countries, and if technology can help address this challenge.
  • Disparities in cancer care within high-income countries.

However, the real metric for the cancer groundshot is implementation of the philosophy and reduction in the inequities in access to proven therapies. Advocacy is the first step to achieve that end.The Conversation


Bishal Gyawali, Associate Professor of Oncology and Public Health Sciences, Queen's University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

The Conversation is seeking new academic contributors. Researchers wishing to write articles should contact Melinda Knox, Director, Thought Leadership and Strategic Initiatives, at knoxm@queensu.ca.


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